HISTORY OF EKIDEN

What is an ekiden race?

The first ekiden race was held in 1917, in conjunction with celebrating the anniversary of the moving of the capital to Tokyo. The ekiden race was held over three days between the old Japanese capital of Kyoto and the modern capital of Tokyo with the total distance amounting to 508 km.

The original concept of the race stems from Japan’s communication and transportation system during the olden days, in which stations were posted at intervals along the road. The word Eki. “駅” means station and den “伝” represents transmit. 

An ekiden race tradition - passing the cloth sash

During an ekiden race, a tasuki sash is passed from one runner in a team to the next runner at the end of each leg. The tasuki represents not just the honour of the team itself but of the university, company, or region that the team comes from. 

The tasuki can be likened by many to a baton in track-and-field relay races, but in actual fact, the tasuki means more than just a baton. Each tasuki is thought to represent the honour not only of the team itself but of the university, company, or region that the team comes from. Thus, it is the tasuki’s symbolic significance that makes an ekiden race unique. The ekiden race is highly favoured in Japan and well participated. Building on the supportive spirit of an Ekiden race, spectators and families of running participants in Japan would usually gather along the route waving flags and encourage each competitor shouting “Gambate, Gambate”, meaning “courage” in Japanese.